mangalore today

Pranab Mukherjee: The best Prime Minister India never had?

Mangalore Today/ NDTV

New Delhi, July 22: Pranab Mukherjee’s occupancy rights to Rashtrapati Bhawan will near-certainly be legitimised today. In a few hours, he is expected to be announced India’s 13th President; the ruling coalition led by the Congress expects a pulsing 70% of the vote.

While his party has not in the past checked his promotion, this time it threw its weight behind its man after some initial dithering over whether he would be its nominee.


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Mr Mukherjee, however, has been the engineer of his own ascent through skills and commitment that have earned him lavish praise from the Opposition, and a reprimand from his family. In 2009, in an interview to NDTV, Mr Mukherjee admitted that a journey bereft of roads less travelled has meant he was a lesser husband and father.

"I have no personal life even though I am a family man ... days together it may happen living under the same roof hardly I see my wife though she is sick. Because sometimes in the morning or late night I normally leave my table, working table, after one in the morning. And before I go to my bedroom I just see, touch her forehead she is in deep sleep."


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"I have no personal life even though I am a family man ... days together it may happen living under the same roof hardly I see my wife though she is sick. Because sometimes in the morning or late night I normally leave my table, working table, after one in the morning. And before I go to my bedroom I just see, touch her forehead she is in deep sleep."

He began his political career in 1969; and has served in every Congress cabinet since Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister. He has served as Home, Finance, External Affairs Minister. In 1969, he became a Rajya Sabha member. As a then rookie MP, he impressed Indira Gandhi with his speech in Parliament on the nationalisation of banks.

By 1973, he was a minister in her cabinet. He has described her as his mentor. 

"She built me up. She gave me the opportunities. I became Finance Minister at the age of 46-47. She allowed me to preside over the Cabinet in her absence, when there were many senior to me," Mr Mukherjee told NDTV.


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His introduction to politics was made by his father, a freedom fighter and a member of the Bengal Legislative Council. As a young student, Mr Mukherjee got a law degree from Calcutta University and began teaching, but soon switched to politics

When Indira Gandhi was assassinated in 1984, he made a legendary mis-step. When her son, Rajiv, asked him who would become the new Prime Minister, Mr Mukherjee reportedly replied, "The senior-most minister." That comment was seen within the party as a rare expression of fierce ambition, and many believe it has underpinned his relationship ever since with the Congress’ first family.

It was the political novice Rajiv Gandhi who filled his mother’s shoes to head party and government; he did not accommodate Mr Mukherjee in his Cabinet. In 1986, the forever Congressman left the Congress and floated his own party - the Rashtriya Samajwadi Congress. The stint away was not Mr Mukherjee’s best moment and he was back in the Congress three years later. In 1991, when PV Narasimha Rao became Prime Minister, he appointed Mr Mukherjee as Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission. Pranab Mukherjee’s career was back on track.


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In 2004, when the Congress-led coalition first came to power, Mr Mukherjee was seen as a contender for Prime Minister. But his boss, Sonia Gandhi, chose Dr Manmohan Singh instead, and even his close supporters began to believe that their leader would be the eternal bridesmaid.

In 2007, he allegedly hoped for an entry to Rashtrapati Bhawan. But his party refused to release him. On record, it said that Mr Mukherjee was indispensable to the daily management and agenda of the Congress and the government. There was plenty of evidence that this was not an exaggerated claim.

Of 183 Groups of Ministers formed by the UPA, at least 80 were chaired by Mr Mukherjee.
He led the committees that dealt with the most volatile political issues - including those that handled the anti-graft Lokpal Bill and statehood for Telangana.  When Parliament was stalled by the opposition, or on legislation where its support was necessary, it was Mr Mukherjee who was assigned to cross the party line and strike a deal. Despite his famous outbursts and short temper, seen occasionally in parliament, leaders like LK Advani and Arun Jaitley have praised him time and time again. 

His all-access pass to Rashtrapati Bhawan may be the result of a rather one-sided fight  - opposition candidate PA Sangma is expected to poll barely 30% of the vote- but Mr Mukherjee could have done without the controversies that unfolded in his election. 

His party kept him waiting while it chose between Vice-President Hamid Ansari and him as their nominee. When its key ally, Mamata Banerjee, made it clear that she would not endorse him, Mr Mukherjee’s chances of being the UPA candidate appeared bleak.  Support from Mulayam Singh Yadav, who provides external support to the coalition, may have helped clinch the deal. And on June 15, Mr Mukheree’s nomination was officially announced at a meeting of the UPA where Ms Banerjee was conspicuous by her absence. She eventually came around just two days before the vote on July 19, and even at that late stage, she made it clear that Mr Mukherjee was not the best man for the job in her estimate.  (Read: How 13 is lucky for Pranab Mukherjee)

"We wanted  (former President) APJ Kalam to be President...we would have done everything to make him win...but it is our misfortune that he refused to run," Ms Banerjee said, adding that she wishes she "could have voted for Mr Mukherjee with a smile on her face, but that is not the case."
Mr Sangma and parties like the BJP which backed him challenged Mr Mukherjee’s nomination on the ground that he held an office of profit at the Indian Statistical Institute.  But the Election Commission ruled in his favour. Then Mr Sangma said that "Rashtrapati Bhawan had become a dumping ground for failures" a caustic reference to Mr Mukherjee’s tenure as Finance Minister.  The criticism wasn’t mitigated by the fact that after taking over the Finance portfolio, the Prime Minister appeared to be reversing controversial announcements by Mr Mukherjee in the union budget that had sent investor sentiment into a spin.

Mr Mukherjee had made it clear that he would not fight another election and that he would not be a part of the next cabinet, if the Congress returned to power in 2014. He has said that his party must find and promote new and younger leaders. Last month, he said he does not agree with those who say his party has been late in giving him his due. "I have been an MP for almost 4 decades ... I was a Minister for 22 years. Therefore, I don’t regret. I am rather quite happy and satisfied that the party has given me enough. Rather I have not done that much as what the party has given me," he said.